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A food expert said genetic modification manufacturing was a biotechnology mainly used to make new products, particularly new types of crop plants. — Photo by Reuters
A food expert said genetic modification manufacturing was a biotechnology mainly used to make new products, particularly new types of crop plants. — Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Three multinational companies along with a number of national firms have approached the Ministry of Food Security seeking licences to raise genetically-modified (GM) food products in Pakistan.

A senior federal government official, refusing to share his name, told Dawn that “a request in this regard has been received by the Ministry of Food Security a few weeks back and it is being reviewed.”

He added that the ministry had received the request to launch the GM products – maize and cotton. He identified the firms as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta.

A food expert said genetic modification manufacturing was a biotechnology mainly used to make new products, particularly new types of crop plants.

According to the federal government official, Monsanto is a US-based biotech company and is famous for BT cotton. He said the BT cotton product of Monsanto was resistant against certain pests.

The official explained that Monsanto was currently providing different variety of seeds (non-genetically modified) and herbicides to farmers in Pakistan.

“I am not aware of the products of Pioneer; however, Syngenta is the largest agri-business company of the world,” added the official.

The spokesman for the ministry could not be contacted for confirmation of the requests.

However, when approached, the director general of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-Epa), Asif Shuja, told Dawn: “The three companies have also approached us. But we are only concerned with the assessment of environmental impacts of these companies.”

When asked to comment on the genetically-modified food products, he said: “It’s a long debate as research is still continuing internationally whether the genetically-modified products have an impact on human health.”

A number of Pakistani companies have also approached Pak-Epa for launching genetically-modified food products but ‘we have not given a no-objection certificate (NOC) to any of them,” he added.

“Many of the local companies want to import genetically-modified food products from China and we have not given any approval in this regard,” added the Pak-Epa chief.

Mr Shuja said the Ministry of Climate Change had also established a committee to review the requests of these companies and it was yet to take a final decision regarding the establishment of their plants in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Dr Jawad Chishtie, a public health and environment management specialist, said: “Genetically-modified products have been rejected in Europe, and most recently in France, for damaging crops and endangering human health.”

He warned that effects of the genetically-engineered organisms were not yet known to researchers and “they are suspected of causing dangerous allergies and even cancer.”

Dr Chishtie cited the example of India where hundreds of farmers committed suicide after introduction of the genetically-modified crops since it damaged their land. Besides, the input price of raising the crop was getting higher.

He said seeds had terminator genes which did not allow the same crop to be planted again from the harvested seeds. “Once a genetically-modified agri-product is planted, the farmers are trapped into buying the seed and its related pesticides each and every year from the same company,” he told Dawn.

“Even there are legal issues like companies do not allow replanting of the seed,” he maintained.

Dr Chishtie asked the government to promote organic farming in Pakistan for which the country had far better environment.

Umar Munawar, an agri-business expert, maintained: "Such a move will increase the cost of food which will become more regulated like we have seen across the world in relation to the bottled water."

He added; "We have to buy water of different brands so if such a move is approved by the government food will also be regulated by multinational companies.”